1. Gammer
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    Gammer Active Member

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    What makes for a good magic system?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Gammer, Jan 30, 2010.

    In my story I'm getting close to explaining the magic system to both the audience and the MC. A magic system that i really haven't fully developed yet. So I'm wondering what makes for a interesting magic system? I know the basics like it needs limits and all that stuff, but what else?

    Any thoughts?
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Try using the Search function. Search the Writing Issues forum and subforums for threads with Magic in the title. You'll find a lot of helpful dicussion threads on the topic.
     
  3. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Just make sure it's logical and consistent. Try not to use a deus ex machina either, which is something I've seen quite often when I read fantasy with a magic system.
     
  4. rikithasta
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    rikithasta Member

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    consistency is very important. If a person is capable of healing cancer, they should be able to heal a broken bone unless there's a really good reason within the system for this. Carrying out this example, the healer should also be somehow penalized for the use of magic, otherwise it does become a deux ex machina. Maybe she becomes tired, or maybe there's a limitation of magic she can use per day/ lifetime/ ritual sacrifice/ whatever.
     
  5. Twisted Inversely
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    Twisted Inversely Senior Member

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    The trick is not to explain everything. Magic should always be a little mysterious. How can I put this. Remember the midi-clorians from Star Wars prequels and how the force was so much cooler when we didn’t know how it worked. Same here. Magic is magical, don’t forget it.
     
  6. Mr What
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    Mr What Member

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    This. Don't overthink it. Don't over explain it. Magic is magic. By going into too much detail you're setting the reader up to either be hyper-critical for oversights or inconsistencies on your part or to put down the book (or manuscript) altogether.
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The magic system for a fantasy story requires as musch careful planning as the science/technology of a science fiction story.

    In both cases, the constraints you set shape the story and will largely determine the credulity of the reader.

    And stay consistent. If you sell a particular spell as amazingly difficult, so your readers are wowed when your protagonist masters it in short order, don't turn around later and have every spellcaster in sight flinging the spell about flawlessly with carefree abandon. An example of this is the Patronus Charm from Harry Potter, which goes from a difficult yet powerful defense against the dread dementors to a magical message courier.
     
  8. Moggle
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    Moggle Member

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    I think a good magic system has to have some sort of structure or foundation for how it works. The reader has to understand it. This is how you pull them in. If the word, "alakazzam" means lift, then that should conveyed to the reader. Authors who decide not to explain their magic systems really do a disservice to their own writing.
     
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Explain? I wouldn't recommend an explicit explanation, but I agree you need to show the reader enough that he or she can intuitively grasp what the limits are.

    The source and mechanism of the magic can remain obscure and still be successful. In fact. some mystery is a good thing.
     
  10. Atari
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    Atari Active Member

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    I don't think that's called a Deus Ex Machina, unless it is SUDDENLY revealed at the end that, oops, apparently the magic is able to cure anything.
     
  11. DvnMrtn
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    DvnMrtn Contributing Member

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    The real magic lays within the readers imagination and your ability to provoke it.
     
  12. SilverRam
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    SilverRam Member

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    The way magic works could be worked into the story's theme and setting. While the magic in Harry Potter was appropriate for the story Rowling intended to tell, a darker/urban story might call for a different set of magic rules. No conjuring food/water, limited supply of magic, No instant transportation ect. would make certain situations in a dark story seem more dire. Basically, the magic should fit with the central theme of the story or it will seem out of place.
     
  13. DvnMrtn
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    DvnMrtn Contributing Member

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    I like that idea. It would be easier to work conflicts in too
     
  14. B-Gas
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    B-Gas Contributing Member

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    The best thing to do is let it be magical. Not magic, magical. Thundrous. Monstrous. Terrifying. Beautiful. Spectacular. If a certain spell creates a dragon out of smoke and lightning and sends that dragon to do battle with entire armies, let the characters think that it was amazing. Too many characters throw their first fireball and then go right on with their lives as though this is something they do every day.

    Characters should react to magic the same way you want your audience to react. A big bit of powerful magic should be regarded with awe and wonder. If it's considered "normal" and the characters yawn and go about their business, the audience will think of it the same way.
     
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  15. DvnMrtn
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    DvnMrtn Contributing Member

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    Very good point!
     
  16. jacklondonsghost
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    jacklondonsghost Contributing Member

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    The way I go about writing magic into any fantasy project I work on is usually really different than what I usually read about, in that I make magic very common, and therefore quite weak.

    For example, in my one WIP, which takes place in a frozen, snowy world, the only magic available is that the humans are all capable of creating sparks between their fingers. So they can start fires, but that's about it. They then in turn have a lot of technology dependant on fires and heat, but the sparks are as far as the magic aspect goes. No giant fireballs here. I like it better this way because the magic is not too powerful, it makes sense in their daily lives (which a lot of times center on surviving in cold temperatures), and it doesn't leave room for ridiculously powerful healing spells or violent magic which sometimes seem unrealistic to me.

    But that's just how I use it in my writing. I don't really have a problem with powerful magic, but it's not really my style. It always just seems too easy to me.
     
  17. mizzy b
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    mizzy b New Member

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    I know I might sound like a "noob" giving my advice here, seeing as I have only one post to my name (so far); but take it or leave it as you wish.
    The best fantasy (or even sci-fi) books that I have read so far have had two things: Heavy structure (rules and organization) and levels.
    Without rules, or organization in any society, that society will crumble. Without a specifically even mix of sugar, flower, and baking powder, a cake will not come out of the oven baked correctly. The same goes with magic in a story. If the main character has too much power, and he is already destroying all of his enemies from the very start of the story, then it takes away from the readers expectancy of the future. The readers already know the extent of the characters powers so there is nothing for them to look forward to, and consequently causes an uninteresting storyline. It also makes it hard to develop the character any further. This is where levels come in to play. When making a magic system, in my opinion characters should start off at level one. You, the author, determines what level one is. Yes the character may be special, and have slightly better abilities and powers than the other characters but it shouldn't be anything that would make the main character look overpowered with (or godmodded, for all my gamers). From level one your character should develop through the story. Key events and situations should be the stepping block for the character to advance to the "next level". Example: the main character is a mage who can use a fireball spell. This character could be talented with using this fireball, but he/she should not be so strong that he could destroy every other mage from the beggining of the story. He should advance his powers by beating tough opponents, or finding a magical power-advancing object in some hard-to-get-to jungle.
    "It's all about entrapping the eyes of the reader with your words. Imagery and complexity of your magic working together and building a story that explodes at the magical climax and causing the reader to go away from the book when he/she is done, but never forget the story in their minds..."
    -Anonymous
     
  18. Anders Backlund
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    Anders Backlund Contributing Member

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    Probably depends on the requirements of your story and the style you are going for.

    Over-all, I think that analyzing the nature and mechanics of magic too much takes some of the charm out of it and turns it into pseudo-science. Some of my favourite stories involving magic never actually explained how it worked: people just waved their hands or whatever, and then amazing stuff happened. How? Magic!

    When I started writing my story, that's what I wanted: magic that didn't come with much of a complex system or rules - I wanted the "snap your fingers and flowers comes out of people's ears" kind of magic.

    Problem is, my story is set in kind of a Hogwarts-eque school for magicians, and something I learned very fast is that its hard to have a magic school without a magic system that can actually be taught. Really, I'm not sure how JK Rowling got away with it.

    So, I find myself balancing between maintaining a magic system with sufficient theory to allow it to be teachable in an academic setting, but at the same time not detailed enough to take away that "Stage Magician" sense of mystery.
     
  19. ronmatt
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    ronmatt Member

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    I would think that a thread of mysticism running through the story would be a source for magic. especially something esoteric. Like the mysticism associated with the Masonic order. Or the Rosicrucian. You know, secret indoctrination stuff.
    Ancient in origin, seemingly lost through time but known to the enlightened. Alchemical in nature.
     
  20. Flame
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    Flame New Member

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    How about an overall source that governs all the magic in your world... where does it come from? Then start tinkering and setting the boundaries.
     

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